Thinking Out Loud: Robert Adams

By Janet Rae-Dupree  |  Posted 01-01-2004

CIO Insight: What did you expect when you came to 99 Cents Only?

Robert Adams: I was nervous about going back into hard-core retail. It takes a certain breed to do it. It's very reactionary and very impulsive. It's a competitive environment. You're always expected to know more and do more and give more. It's seven days a week. My phone rings in the middle of the night on a regular basis. You're giving something up.

On the other hand, it gives me opportunity. It's like I've been given a clean slate. You don't walk into many jobs with a clean slate. It was a bit of, "Hey, I can do it my way."

Do you have an annual budget?

No.

Then what controls your spending?

Between equipment, payroll, cash registers, it's a few million dollars a year. Probably $4 million or $5 million a year, which is pretty low for a company our size. We do well at making money. We believe in streamlining things. We need a little more red tape, but I don't want it to be too much more.

Why more red tape?

I would like a little more accountability, a few more procedures, a bit more keeping people focused. The problem with being able to react quickly is that people use it too often. Sometimes, I think we should step back and try to build better and keep our focus, keep on top of projects instead of going back and forth.

How does the Gold family influence the company's operations?

We're still a very tightly knit, closely monitored company. It's not a political company. That's one of the beauties of working with a family-owned operation. There's a real small power base within the company, decisions are made quickly and our whole life cycle of projects is much, much shorter. The ROIs are much easier to explain to one person than to an entire committee of people. It's a much more informal process.

But the buck stops there. If you don't make your point quickly enough, you're done. My biggest fear coming in here was that they wouldn't be willing to do a lot with technology because they would naturally be cheap. I shouldn't have worried.

How has your job evolved over the course of your career?

IS now hits every area of the enterprise. When I first started out, I was this Holy Grail kind of guy. I was the one who knew the computers, so everyone responded to anything I said with "Yes sir," and whatever I gave them they were thankful for it. This was the era when there was maybe one PC for the whole accounting area. Now I have to know everything about all aspects of the business and be able to keep the entire enterprise running smoothly. There's a new-PC mentality out there pushing up the expectation levels. All these users now have PCs at home. They think that when it's time to upgrade it's just a matter of loading up the new software and—boop!—you're done. They think it's that simple. They don't understand that when you're trying to manage an enterprise you have to manage for change. I'm not going to be able to upgrade one point-of-sale register. I'm going to have to do all 1,500 of them.